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Glen O Jones Lake

Glen O Jones Lake

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The Saline County State Fish & Wildlife Area is 1,270 acres with a 105 acre lake and four hiking trails. We drove here on a warm winter day to stretch our legs and those of our fine furry friend. Originally we picked the Cave Hill trail to walk, but after passing several families all asking “Do you know if there’s actually a cave back there? We walked way far back and no cave” decided to change directions. Plus, the Cave Hill trail was going through pure woods, which is sort of boring in the winter.

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A statue for the Shawnee Chief Tecumseh is at the trailhead for Cave Hill

Although the map doesn’t show it, there is a trail that connects from the Cave Hill area down to the Lake trail. We walked this and then around by the lake for a while. The lake was beautiful on the sunny day. It was an easy hike and perfect for a relaxed family day.

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For the record, after much internet searching, the second edition of Hiking Illinois said Cave Hill is a 3 mile linear trail ending in Cave Hill. I’m hoping to go back better prepared for a 6 mile round trip hike and find Cave Hill.

 

Ghost Dance Canyon

Ghost Dance Canyon

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Dixon Springs is a 801 acre state park near Golconda, IL. The area is known for mineral-enriched water and was a health spa in the 19th century. The area today is known for cliffs, crags, boulders, and bubbling brooks that turn into waterfalls with enough rain, just a few of my favorite things.

The park contains a swimming pool and some camp grounds (although I read that they aren’t the best in the area). The trails could also use some maintenance. There were a few times that I was guessing where it went next and eventually just followed the sound of the water. The areas without a clear trail were filled with brush and Chiba’s leash became tangled too many times. That being said, it’s a lovely area for a more adventurous hiker!

There are two trails in Dixon Springs: a short down and back trail about a mile called Ghost Dance Canyon and a longer loop of Oak Tree Trail, Bluff Trail, and Pine Tree Trail. I cannot find a length for the longer loop on the internet. The longer loop is definitely the better known of the two. Ghost Dance Canyon can barely be seen on the map of the park. I had read online, however, that Ghost Dance Canyon was the real gem of the park. This time I only completed Ghost Dance Canyon, but I hope to go back for the longer loop.

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Ghost Dance Canyon begins in the parking lot for the swimming pool. You probably wouldn’t even know it was a trail just looking at it. It immediately crosses the brook, takes a left pass a sign for the trail, and goes under a highway bridge.

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After the bridge, you follow a brook for a while. There’s several points where it’s quite easy to be right next to the river and climb around on the rocks. Chiba had fun trying to snap at bubbles.

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The next turn is a tricky one, you have to cross the river, but the path isn’t well laid out. There’s a series of rocks in a line across the brook. If it was warmer, you could easily walk in the water. I did read online that the water can get high in a very rainy season and it’s not advised to cross then.

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The trail picks back up here and you walk alongside a cliff.

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Again there are several paths to walk down to the water’s edge.

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After this is where I became more confused and just followed the sound of falling water. The waterfall was flowing for me!

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The small waterfall was lovely and river rock hopping is always a favorite for me. I do wish the state would spend some time and money cleaning up this area. Even knowing this, I’ll be back to do the longer loop!

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Alto Pass – Quetil Trail

Alto Pass – Quetil Trail

If you haven’t been winter hiking in Southern Illinois, you should. We have stretches of very mild weather during the winter and it’s the perfect opportunity to get outside. There are no bugs on the trails, the crowds are very thin, the temperature is great, and some of the overlooks are more spectacular because you can see further without the leaves. Try to select a trail, though, that’s interesting without the greenery, such as one with bluffs or waterfalls.

Alto Pass is a tiny town in Southern Illinois, about a half hour south of Carbondale. It’s claim to fames include the Bald Knob Cross (an 111 ft white cross that has additional great scenic views) and Alto Pass Vineyards (the first winery in Southern Illinois).

Following signs from Alto Pass for the “scenic overview,” there’s a picnic shelter and a cliff line to walk along with stunning views. Off to the South, you can see the giant Bald Knob Cross. The scenic overview is called “Cliff View Park” and is one of the best overlooks in Southern Illinois.

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To the West of the overlook, there is a set of stone stairs carved into the cliff. This leads to the trail below. Alternatively, you can park at the foot of the cliff.

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The trail used to be an old railway line. Today it runs .5 miles before ending at some private property. The trail runs between sandstone bluffs and the forest.

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My favorite boys.

The overlook also happens to be the spot where Donovan proposed to be on Christmas Eve of 2015. It’s a great short hike and has some very happy memories for us.

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Ferne Clyffe

Ferne Clyffe

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” – Marcel Proust

Ferne Clyffe was one of the first places I hiked at in Southern Illinois. For my first trip there with friends, we didn’t look it up online prior to going. We hiked the first trail we found, an easy 1 mile hike that circles Ferne Clyffe Lake. We thought the area was pretty, but left overall unimpressed.

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The lake in winter

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The lake in early fall

After a while of living in Southern Illinois, we heard people talk about a waterfall at Ferne Clyffe. Knowing we obviously missed something, we came back. The watefall at Ferne Clyffe is 100 feet tall with a very small pool at the bottom. You can rock hop or climb on the bluffs to reach about every part of the waterfall. Almost every time I have hiked to the waterfall, I’ve used the trail that starts at the top by the Derr Ridge Campgrounds. It’s about .75 miles and can either take you to the top of the waterfall or down to the bottom. There’s actually paths on either side of the waterfall that run from the top to the bottom.

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After several years of only going to Ferne Clyffe for the main waterfall, I took a good look at the map the Department of Natural Resources has and realized they are citing 18 different trails (I’m not totally convinced by how they’re counting, but OK). This lead to my trek through the woods with my wonderful boyfriend Donovan on our anniversary. I ended up getting us lost for several hours and on a horse trail instead of walking paths. Ferne Clyffe needs some better signage in their less populated areas. We did stumble upon the not well known Natural Bridge of Ferne Clyffe! You can read more about that here (post to come). He’s a trooper.

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Then again the wonderful internet lead me to find out about a second huge waterfall at Ferne Clyffe, Bork Falls. It’s my personal favorite waterfall in Ferne Clyffe: amazingly spectacular and a lot less crowded than the main fall. Read more about that adventure here. At least that time we didn’t get lost for hours.

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Finally, a co-worker told me about a trail leading to a large cove overhang with fun climbing bolders. This led me to the trail area that is the most populated at Ferne Clyffe, but for a good reason. In one parking lot, there are 4 trail heads. This area of Ferne Clyffe has great signage at each trail head. Each trail is an easy hike and you can complete all of them in a day for some great scenery.

Rebman Trail: A short .25 mile hike on mostly flat ground. The path takes you past bluffs in the park. We were there shortly after it had rained and the area had two small flowing waterfalls. I would imagine that these would not be there during dry spells.

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Goreville Boy Scout Trail: We did not do this trail. To us it looked like it really just connected to additional parking. The Department of Natural Resources describes it as a “steep trail that connects the park to the nearby city of Goreville.”

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Hawk’s Cave Trail: This is the trail my co-worked was talking about, again a short 1 mile loop. DNR claims that Hawk’s Cave is the “one of the largest shelter bluffs in Illinois.” I would believe it. It was pretty huge. The path leads you by two bluff overhangs. The first is small and short, but tall enough that the trail walks under it. There was a small trickle of water flowing down from the top of the bluffs while we were there, creating a thin waterfall. The trail then leads to “one of the largest shelter bluffs in Illinois.” A massive area filled with sandstone boulders.

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Big Rocky Hollow Trail: This is the most popular trail at Ferne Clyffe leading to the base of their main waterfall. There are usually other people on the trail. Down and back on the trail is only about a mile and the ground can be easily navigated by strollers. Walking past the mossy bluffs and the 100-foot waterfall are both beautiful.

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Ferne Clyffe is wonderful because it’s beautiful and really close to Carbondale and Marion. Perfect for when you need to stretch your legs or take your dog on a longer walk. I’ve probably been to Ferne Clyffe around 10 times over the past 6 years and there are still some trails I have yet to hike. Most of the trails are short enough that you can travel a handful of them in one day, just don’t get lost out on the horse trails!

Pomona Natural Bridge

Pomona Natural Bridge

The Pomona Natural Bridge is one of my all time favorites in Southern Illinois. I’ve been many times bringing friends with me and of course my camera. I’ve almost always had the place to myself. This area features a short half mile loop that crosses over the sandstone Natural Bridge. The bridge is fairly large, about 90 feet across, and the woods mean you don’t see it until you’re quite close. These characteristics make it hard to photograph, but gives you that wonderful feeling of being in the middle of nowhere without having to travel far.

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Getting there isn’t hard once you know. The very first time I tried to find it was on one of my photography drives and I turned seeing the state sign. Driving south down 127, you see a sign advertising the Pomona Natural Bridge and the unincorporated community Pomona (an intersection with a general store). Turn right at the intersection with the general store. This road curves left or goes straight onto a gravel road. Take the gravel road. The first time I started down this, I thought I had made a wrong turn. It felt like someone’s driveway and there are always some dogs that come out to see me. Drive about 2 miles on this road, which feels a lot longer due to your slow speeds on the gravel. Then you’ll see the parking area for the Natural Bridge.

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The hike is an easy one. Only half a mile loop with the bridge at the far side. The area is classic to Southern Illinois filled with trees, rocks, bluffs, and foliage. During the Spring, the drive is lined with wildflowers.

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The southern part of the trail crosses over a trickle of a stream that runs down the side of the cliff and under the bridge.
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Right past the bridge on the west side is a path to walk down under the bridge.

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The area around Pomona is also quite beautiful. I have explored the fields and country roads many times. Pomona Winery is in the area with all delicious non-grape fruit wines. Little Grand Canyon is in this area too, but it’s still on my to-explore list.

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